Saturday, August 2, 2008
Birgé-Gorgé-Shiroc, DÉFENSE DE/LA NUIT DU PHOQUE/JUNE SESSIONS
Grrr, 1975; reissued by MIO; out of print, but fairly easy to find
MIO edition: CD has 8 tracks, 73:54; DVD has 11 additional audio tracks plus a 42 minute movie, totalling roughly 6 hours (!)
This is the most formidable recording I have yet to review, but here goes anyway. Contained herein is every recording by Jean-Jacques Birgé, Francis Gorgé, and Shiroc. The former two went on to form the equally incredible Un Drame Musical Instantané with Bernard Vitet*, whereas Shiroc never recorded again after this. The first four tracks were the original LP, and when combined with the title they form a political message (I'll let you translate it yourself; wouldn't want to spoil it!). The music is..... well, it's unique, for one. Imagine a cross between the most out-there Sun Ra material, early AMM, a dash of Faust, and some of that French experimental flair. Then imagine a combination of those elements completely devoid of influences. That's fairly close to what you'll find on here! Shiroc's drumming varies from motorik pulses to free-jazz bashing, but is always tasteful and properly mixed with the other instruments. Birgé and Gorgé play an insanely wide variety of instruments; it's so varied, in fact, that a song-by-song instrument list is included! Electric guitar, synths, electric pianos, electric organs, tapes, alto and tenor sax (provided by Antoine Duvernet on two tracks), pipe organ, castanets, stylophones.... get the picture? That's also maybe a quarter of the entire list! Oddly enough, you can usually tell exactly what instrument is providing what sound, and the formlessness of the tracks works to their constantly evolving advantage. The bonus tracks are all leftovers from the album proper. Two of them were replaced with tracks featuring Shiroc, and the other two are alternate takes of "Pourrait Etre Brutal". Unlike most outtakes, these tracks are every bit as great as the album proper. The CD alone is an absolutely unique milestone of the avant-garde. The accompanying DVD, however, is the icing on the cake. Musically it features eleven more tracks, ranging from a fairly short ten minutes to a nearly forty-eight minute live track (also featuring second percussionist Gilles Rollet)! Shiroc, who was on half of the eight CD tracks, is present on every song on the DVD. Some of these "June Sessions" are even better than the album proper, and all of them would have made fine releases on their own. The experimental film "La Nuit Du Phoque" ("Night Of The Seal"), created in 1974 by Birgé and the late Bernard Mollerat, is also a very welcome addition. It's a comedic and surreal piece of art, featuring everything from a clown (I think) singing about "The Militant's Ballet" with a choreographed group of revolutionaries to Sir Isaac Newton scaring children in the park (and ending up stabbed for his troubles) all the way to a very bizarre cabaret performance with odd free jazz backing. It's a true period piece, and the fact that it exists and has been preserved is cause for celebration. Unfortunately, as stated in other reviews, MIO has ceased to exist. That makes this difficult to find, but if you search hard enough you will locate it (hint: Wayside has it for twenty dollars at the time this was written, and Birgé himself has copies for sale alongside classic UDMI material at http://www.drame.org/3GRRR/zDisco.html). An absolute must for all avant-garde fans!
*Vitet's LA GUÊPE is very much worth a listen as well!